Been to New Westminster lately? If you haven’t been there, what images first comes to mind? Are they positive or negative? If they’re negative, you’d be in for a surprise with the changes that have happened in the city. Big changes.
New Westminster was once the pride of British Columbia. It was proclaimed by Lieutenant Governor Richard Moody in 1859 to be the official capital of the Colony of British Columbia. It was official recognized as a city in 1861, exactly 25 years before Vancouver was established as a city. A lot of history is in that town which currently has a population of over 65,000.
It was seen as a great pathway with being located by the Fraser River. Excellent for transportation of goods through the waters and great links by rail service. It’s area rich in trees was especially beneficial for the logging industry and for the pulp and paper industry. Many pulp and paper mills were build around New Westminster and the Fraser River. Its railway system would also be built around the various mills.
As many of you have noticed in your own cities, the older buildings would face a neglect for some time. Much during the 60’s and 70’s. New Westminster faced a neglect during the 80’s and 90’s. A lot of the times the areas would be some of the sleazier areas of town often the scene of drug deals or crime. Even the older buildings would start to look shabby over time. The area around New Westminster Skytrain station used to be a popular hangout for young thugs. Some former residents of New West may remember that.
One thing many people will notice is the many improvements made in New Westminster over the last ten years. Columbia Street has definitely made big improvements in the last ten years. Before 1964, Columbia St. used to have many department stores and was the downtown attraction of New Westminster. The area consisting of the major stores around Columbia St. which also linked with South Burnaby and North Surrey was known as the Golden Mile. That changed after 1964 when the Highway #1 freeway was completed and allowed people to travel to Vancouver faster. Many of the department stores along Columbia St. closed up and moved themselves to the Uptown area. The nearby landmarks like Douglas College, the Courts and the City Hall were the places still keeping it active mostly.
Things really improved since Wayne Wright became mayor of New Westminster in 1999. Columbia St. has recently gone under a ‘facelift’ in the last ten years. One of the things Columbia St. is noted for is their array of wedding and bridal shops. It has become a major area for wedding planning and fashion. Housing along Columbia St. has also sprouted out with new developments happening. Even older buildings were renovated or given new life for attracting new and current businesses. There’s even an annual automobile festival in July, the ‘Key West Show & Shine’, that attracts people to the street.
The biggest boost on Columbia St. was the Plaza 88 along the New Westminster Skytrain station. A multi-storied condo was built there five years ago with the anticipation of an adjacent outdoor shopping mall along the Skytrain levels. Back in winter 2011, the New Westminster Skytrain station opened Plaza 88 and has since become a common shopping place with a Safeway and a Shoppers Drug Mart. A movie theatre opened there last year as well as various other stores and medical businesses and new businesses continue to come in. Ten to even five years ago, the area was very run down full of old crumbly buildings and was a common hangout for people into drugs or causing trouble. Now the place makes for a for comfortable setting for people and even includes a play area for children.
Another bustling area is the New Westminster Quay market alongside the Fraser River. The Quay market had a slow period roughly six years ago as businesses left many vacancies behind. A major renovation of the market area from July 2007 until its reopening in September 2010 has succeeded in attracting new businesses in especially with having an ‘anchor store’ with Donald’s Market.
Another redeveloped in New Westminster as of recent is the Brewery District. The Brewery District used to be the pride of the town of Sapperton after the Sapperton Brewery was opened in 1879. The brewery was owned by many brewing companies with Labatt’s Brewing Company being its last one in 1958. The brewery was closed in 2004 after Labatt’s decided to withdraw its business. The area that used to be part of the brewery has been redeveloped in the last few years. The area was recently revived with the opening of a Thrifty Foods and a Toronto Dominion bank. A Brown’s Social House restaurant and a Shopper’s Drug Mart were also opened months ago. Nearby is the office for the Greater Vancouver Transit Police and Translink with office room for more businesses. There’s already a condo area in existence to the surrounding area and more homes are planned in the years to come. Even with the surprising news in the past two months of Thrifty Foods being sold by its umbrella company Sobey’s, the area still shows potential for consumer business to increase over time.
It isn’t just new buildings and businesses that New Westminster is proud to show off. Recently it has also developed a sense of pride for its past. Back in 2009, the Royal City celebrated 150 years. The Irving House on Royal St., now a museum, is its most classic building and open to the public and even has a Victorian style Christmas. The New Westminster Heritage Centre runs guidelines for running and developing its classic homes and buildings. This allows for buildings like the BC Penitentiary to be converted into an office or even the CPR station on Columbia St. to be converted into a Keg Restaurant for some time. There are also tours of heritage homes which still keep their own facades and designs despite renovations and modernizations for current occupancy. The New Westminster Mayday festival started in 1870 and still continues today as a tradition with participating children still wearing the traditional uniform and dancing around the maypole.
It’s not only what has been completed in the last five years or past buildings and traditions revamped that has caught a lot of buzz for New Westminster but also what’s planned for the future. Being constructed nearby Plaza 88 will be the brand new New Westminster Civic Centre or the Anvil Centre as it’s commonly called now. That area too was once part of an area that had a lot of old buildings that were also looking run down and also a common spot for homeless people and drug addicts to loiter around. The centre is designed in the shape of an anvil commemorating the Anvil fired off annually during the Battery Salute of the annual Hyack Festival. The centre which is expected to open next year promises a 350-seat theatre, art studios, multi-purpose rooms for arts and performing arts development, a conference space with banquet seating for up to 500, a new location for Tourist New Westminster on ground level, and a new home for both the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame and Museum of New Westminster.
There was one negative note. Back in October there was a fire that burned down the E.L. Lewis Building, one of Columbia St.’s older buildings still put to good use. The fire devastated the building and surrounding area leaving 30 businesses displaced. It was an unfortunate happening. This could however lead to promise of a new development in terms of businesses or housing.
New Westminster has developed a new sense over the years. It’s a city with a proud and celebrated past with a highly ambitious future. Despite the negative impact in the past 20 to 30 years, the city has made big improvements and promises more in the future. The Royal City is becoming Royal again.
For more information about New Westminster, click the link to the official website.
If you live in one of the cities of British Columbia, you may have had to place your vote in this year’s civic election. It’s that time every three years where the B.C. Cities head out to decide their mayor, their school trustees, and their city councilors. Nevertheless it’s always the mayoral election that catches the most attention, especially for the mayor of the City of Vancouver. Whatever the situation, most major cities had very little change in terms of the mayor elected. The biggest changes happened in the smaller cities on the outskirts of Greater Vancouver or in the smaller towns. Here’s a brief wrap-up of which mayors are staying and which are leaving:
VANCOUVER – Gregor Robertson
HIs three-year term of mayor has received huge publicity. It came as he was mayor while Vancouver was the Olympic City and mayor during the time of the Stanley Cup finals. His three-year term as mayor has come with many ups and downs. He sponsored HEAT (Homeless Emergency Action Team) to aid the homeless problem and provide shelters. It has helped the problem to an extent but has faced its own funding issues. He praised the opening of the Canada Line but criticized the construction process. He has mandated for Vancouver to become the “Greenest City on Earth’ but has been criticized for approving the construction of bike lanes down Dunsmuir from Beatty to Hornby. He has headed an amendment for borrowing almost half a billion to fund the 2010 Olympic Village without taxpayers input. He has also made some unguarded comments about Premier Gordon Campbell at a public introduction and profanity-laden comments about the rival civic party NPA which were broadcast on Youtube. He has even admitted partial responsibility for the 2011 Vancouver Riots.
In the 2011, he and his Vision Vancouver party faced stiff rivalry from councilor Suzanne Anton and rival party NPA and Ellen Woodworth and COPE. On election night, Robertson was re-elected mayor with all but two of the council seats won by Vision. The other two seats were won by the NPA party. Vision also kept the control of the Park Board and the School Board. Robertson promises in his term an aggressive agenda to try to end homelessness, raise the profile of green issues and tackle housing affordability.
BURNABY – Derek Corrigan
The election was known more for the forming of a new civic party than of the party that was expected to win. When Burnaby school board passed an anti-homophobia policy, many Burnaby parents were unhappy and formed the Burnaby Parents Voice party with five school board candidates in an attempt to strike down the policy. In the end, it was the left-leaning Burnaby Citizens Association headed by Mayor Derek Corrigan that swept everything, and for the second election in a row. Despite the lack of opposition, Corrigan says he and his Citizens Association will be open, transparent and anything but complacent about ideas and issues.
NEW WESTMINSTER – Wayne Wright
Being a resident of New Westminster, this was one election that was able to distract me from that of the City of Vancouver. Wayne Wright won for the fourth straight time and his win was double the number of votes of his closest rival James Crosty. The downside of the election was that there was only 24% voter turnout. Shame. Wright has been known to push for development in the city, especially after the loss of three pulp mills and the Labatt’s Brewery in the past decade. The last three years have seen a lot of development completed or taking shape like the completed shopping area and the business sector under construction at the Brewery District, the New Westminster Station shopping center which is to be opened next month, the New Westminster Civic Centre which has just started construction and a Pier Park project in the works.
SURREY – Dianne Watts
Her re-election to the mayor’s office was not a surprise. She had already won twice before. What was a surprise was that her Surrey First party swept all the councilor seats and won 81% of the vote. She plans to develop its City Centre into a ‘Second Downtown’ for Greater Vancouver with a new library and City Hall. She also plans to add more police presence and firefighter presence in the city and well as services for at-risk youth and a child advocacy center. She also plans for more seniors services and for more transit access in the city.
RICHMOND – Malcolm Brodie
It was Brodie again for the fourth straight election. His win may not have been the most decisive of the night but it was the quickest of the night. The biggest civic issue he plans to tackle is growth, especially around the Canada Line. He plans on working out an aggressive affordable housing strategy along with ensuring the number of green spaces and recreational facilities.
COQUITLAM – Richard Stewart
Richard Stewart’s biggest pre-election headlines weren’t about the campaign or his issues but about being hit by a car a week ago while campaigning. Despite an aggressive rivalry from Barrie Lynch, Stewart won the election.
NANAIMO – John Ruttan was re-elected mayor of Nanaimo with a convincing win. The council has a mix of some familiar faces and some new faces. This was another city with another low voter percentage: 26%.
VICTORIA – Dean Fortin
Fortin was re-elected for a second term. The capital region saw very little change in the leadership. There were some changes of councilors but most of the original councilors as well as the city’s mayors remained the same.
WHISTLER – Nancy Wilhelm-Morden
Wilhelm-Morden won the mayor’s seat beating out incumbent mayor Ken Melamed: 2636 votes to 610. The city’s biggest issues were the transit problems, assisting business, trust between the community and city hall and the unpopular implementation of pay parking.
SQUAMISH – Rob Kirkham
Kirkham was elected Squamish’s new mayor in a close race: 2283 votes to 2104 to incumbent mayor Auli Parvainen. His biggest goal is the town’s oceanfront plan which he sees it key to the town’s prosperity.
LANGLEY – Jack Froese
Mayor Rick Green was often criticized for leading a dysfunctional council. In the end, he lost to newcomer Jack Froese. Froese plans to bring a better future to the community and tackle the town’s urbanization whom many residents feel is growing too fast.
PITT MEADOWS – Deb Walters
Don MacLean was stepping down as mayor of the town. That led to three rivals for the mayor’s seat. In the end, the winner was Deb Walters with 55% of the votes. In the process, she became Pitt Meadows’ first femal mayor.
KELOWNA – Walter Gray
Possible the biggest city to have a change of mayor. Walter Gray has been mayor before but lost to Sharon Shepherd back in 2005. After a six-year absence, Gray was elected back in to the mayor’s seat by a close margin: 47.1% compared to Shepherd’s 45.7%. His goals are to attract investors to Kelowna and create more jobs for the city.
There are more elections that happened in BC but those were the one that received the biggest notice for which seats changed and which remained the same. For most BC residents, there were two elections to pay close attention to: the City of Vancouver and their own city. Every city’s residents have a lot of expectations from their mayor and the councilors over the next three years. Whether they carry them out, and if the outcome is good or bad, is something only the next three years can tell.
VANCOUVER SUN: Vancouver Sun, 2011. Canada.com. Postmedia Network Inc. <http://www.vancouversun.com>